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Local business: The job-creating engine the valley is looking for

Gary Christensen

We hear a lot of bad news about the economy and how “nothing will change until someone brings in more jobs.” We do need more jobs in the Treasure Valley. But where are they going to come from? The same place they’ve come from in the past – here in the Treasure Valley.

For the first 100 years, Idaho was a resource-based economy. The overwhelming majority of jobs were in agriculture, forestry and mining. The Treasure Valley cultivated entrepreneurs who saw better ways to utilize these resources.

The Simplot Co. made Idaho potatoes an international commodity. Boise Cascade and Trus Joist improved forest stewardship practices and the way building materials are produced from those raw materials. Morrison-Knudsen tackled heavy construction around the world. These enterprises created jobs in manufacturing, distribution, management, accounting, law and finance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, we couldn’t count on agriculture, forestry and mining to support our economy as they had in the past. Growth came as our local Fortune 500 companies grew and diversified. High-tech grew in Boise because our engineering talent wouldn’t move to Hewlett-Packard’s campus in California. Our entrepreneurial spirit drove innovation in established companies, spin-offs and new ventures. Micron started in a basement and now employs 5,000 people in the valley.

Our homegrown Fortune 500 companies continued to grow, nationally and internationally, and that growth added jobs in Boise. But in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, mergers and consolidations (some call it piracy) moved most of our headquarters operations to other states, taking both the corporate jobs and the vendors and suppliers that supported them.

When the recession hit in 2008, anyone thinking of expanding into Idaho hunkered down and did whatever it took to stay alive. Nobody’s going to be bringing those jobs into Idaho. We’re going to have to create them ourselves.

We already are. The self-reliance and pioneer spirit that built Idaho is still alive. Our local businesses and entrepreneurs are growing businesses, carefully and pragmatically, even in these difficult financial times.

I see it directly in the Banner Bank Building and the 9th and Bannock Garage which we manage. Over the last year or so, we have had eight tenants adjust their offices to accommodate anywhere from two to nine more employees. One tenant took a floor in another office building because they needed more space than we could give them. And another tenant will be moving next year because we can’t accommodate the consistent growth they’ve shown over the last three years. We already have a tenant signed to take whatever space the neighbor doesn’t take first.

Our parking totals are up over 60 permits per month over the last 12 months. Some are small entrepreneurial enterprises. The rest are existing companies that are expanding. If we announced that “someone” would be bringing 60 new jobs to downtown Boise over the next year, it would be on the front page of this newspaper. As it is, there is no hoopla, no announcement. Most of it won’t be reflected in absorption statistics published by the appraisers or the brokerage houses, because there were no new tenants – only steady, responsible growth by our existing Idaho companies, and more Idaho entrepreneurs figuring out better ways to make things happen.

It’s not just downtown. It’s the unknown company in Eagle with 14 employees that puts GPS technology into tracking devices used in over 20 states and 10 foreign countries. It’s the startup in Meridian that measures the moisture in soil digitally and is now a manufacturer that employs over 20 people.

There are hundreds of entrepreneurial businesses around the valley, and new ventures starting monthly. These are the small businesses that create jobs and grow into the medium businesses that drive our economy.

If I weren’t an optimist, I couldn’t be a developer. I look for the good news, even when most of what is printed or aired is bad. What I’m seeing is good – there are more employees in my building and more cars in the garage than a year ago, even though there are no new tenants.

“They” didn’t bring jobs to Boise. “We” grew them ourselves.

Gary Christensen is president and developer at The Christensen Corp. in Boise.

About Gary Christensen